President Barzani: Cutting Budget Equals ‘Declaration of War’ by Baghdad

By RUDAW – 26-2-2014 – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said Tuesday that the recent decision by the Iraqi federal government to block Erbil’s share of the annual budget amounts to “a declaration of war against the people of Kurdistan.”“Not sending Kurdistan’s budget is an illegal act,” he declared.

For weeks, Baghdad has blocked payments from the national budget to the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in order to prevent Kurdish control over oil exports to Turkey and beyond.

Baghdad and Erbil are locked in a complex political feud. The Kurds insist that their autonomy gives them constitutional rights to exploit and export their own vast oil and gas resources, and have signed a comprehensive oil and gas deal with energy-hungry Turkey next door.

To force Erbil to concede control over revenues to the federal government, Baghdad has frozen the KRG’s monthly deposits from the national budget, which go to pay for things like government salaries. Since last December, the KRG and Baghdad have held three rounds of high-level meetings to agree on the terms of the Erbil-Ankara energy deal. But talks failed over who should be in charge of marketing and selling Kurdish oil internationally.

Barzani insisted that the Kurdistan Region is acting within the boundaries of the Iraqi constitution. “The Kurdistan Region hasn’t taken a single step in violation of the constitution,” he said. “We are only practicing our rights.” The Kurdish president went on to blame the political and security crisis in Iraq on the “wrong policies of Iraqi leaders.”

He said that Baghdad has no excuse to impose sanctions on Kurdistan and to refuse payments from the national budget. According to the Iraqi constitution, the autonomous Kurdistan Region is entitled to 17 percent of Iraq’s annual budget. The Kurds have long said that Baghdad has never sent more than 10 percent of the budget. The KRG has condemned Baghdad’s budget tactic as both illegal and immoral, saying it puts pressure on average employees. Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliament speaker Osama Nujaifi told Rudaw that he has started mediating between the two governments to find a solution.  He said that cutting off Kurdistan from the budget is unacceptable.

“We have made an initiative to solve the problems between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad, in particular the issue of not sending the salaries of the employees,” Nujaifi said. “The budget is a constitutional and legal right of the Kurdistan Region, we are against halting it and no unilateral decisions should be made about this,” he added.

For his part, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said Tuesday that his government is willing to negotiate with Baghdad on all issues, except the budget cut. “The KRG hopes that the problems are solved through dialogue,” he said. But he warned that, “absolutely, the KRG will not negotiate with Baghdad on not sending the budget and cutting the salaries of employees, because this is unacceptable.”

“The Iraqi government should not use employees’ salaries as a political card against the Kurdistan Region,” he insisted. Also on Tuesday, the finance ministry in Erbil announced it would start paying all government salaries over the next few days. Earlier this month, Kurdish businessmen and investors reportedly gave $85 million to the Central Bank of Kurdistan to help bridge an immediate cash crisis. Reports said the money would pay the salaries of teachers, laborers and other workers, some of whom have staged week-long strikes. “The people of Kurdistan have no issues with the Shiite people,” said President Barzani. “The problem is the behavior of the leaders in Baghdad.”

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